14th, 16th November 2018
Writing: Jack Webb (Year 12)
Editing: Ollie Ensor (Year 11)
Last week A Level Chemistry and Physics students set off for the Piccadilly Theatre in London to quench their collective thirst to discover some of science’s greatest breakthroughs, as well as its emerging fields of research.
Wednesday brought a series of excellent lectures from acclaimed physicists including theoretical physicist and broadcaster Professor Jim Al-Khalili, who spoke on the highly specialised field of quantum biology - the subject of his latest book Life on the Edge. One particularly fascinating theory was that the phenomenon of quantum tunnelling (where an electron appears to jump from A to B and bypass the space in between) could be the reason for our ability to smell.
This was complemented by a lecture from Dr Suzie Sheehy, an Australian particle physicist, who combined some useful careers advice with an explanation of her work on creating new particle accelerators for use in medical applications, such as treating cancer. The advantage of using light ions and protons over traditional X-ray radiotherapy is that the exposure to the body is more localised with the charged particles generated by the accelerator.
However, the day was not only focused on the microscopic scale; Dr Helen Czerski talked about her career as a physicist and oceanographer, researching the influence of ocean bubbles on the atmosphere from an icebreaker in the Arctic circle.
Dr Michael Brooks gave a detailed oversight of the developments in our understanding of gravity, from Newtonian equations to the general theory of relativity and gravitational waves. It was slightly discomforting to learn that the gravitational constant is as finely tuned as 1 part in 1034 to form a universe suitable for life.
On Friday it was the turn of the chemists, who were treated to an entertaining talk by Oxford Professor Peter Atkins on thermodynamics, rounded off with an explanation of how everything in the universe is becoming increasingly disordered over time, or as he phrased it, 'things get worse'. He was preceded by nanochemist Dr Suze Kundu who spoke on her research of functional nanomaterials (matter between 1 and 100 nm) and how nanoscience will become increasingly exciting when we get to the point where we can manipulate individual atoms themselves.
For those who prefer to deal with the more tangible elements that form the periodic table, Professor Andrea Sella gave his lecture on the significance of just one of these elements - mercury - showing how it has been integral to hundreds of years of scientific discoveries.
Both days also featured snippets of pertinent exam and revision advice from a chief examiner, which was welcomed by Sixth Form students, who will be embarking on their preparation for exams, making for an inspiring and informative two days of physical science.